Music Therapy

Easing a Child's Pain with the Sound of Music

By Giannina Smith @ Atlanta Business Chronicle

Therapists Beth Collier and Cori Snyder are using their musical gifts as a way to heal and motivate. From using the rhythm of a song to help a child take a first step in rehabilitation to singing a song to divert a patient's focus away from the side effects of chemotherapy, Collier and Snyder are helping patients at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta get through a difficult time.

For their work with young patients in music therapy, Collier and Snyder are the winners of the 2010 Health-Care Heroes Allied Health Professional award.

"Each day I realize I am fortunate to do work I love to do and I get to meet so many people and have such unique experiences." said Collier, therapist at Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. 'The tough stuff?seeing kids feel so sick and talking to parents who have lost a child to cancer?will never be easy. Watching them find ways to cope with music is one thing that is slightly redeeming in the process."

Joining Children's in 1998, Collier first discovered the benefits of music therapy while volunteering at a nursing home in high school, where she used the piano to bring out the personality of residents.

Serving first as a music therapist in the Inpatient Rehabilitation Program at Children's, Collier saw a need for a music therapy program at the Aflac Cancer Center for children battling cancer or a blood disorder.

"I was trying to develop the program at the hospital and talked to different units and said this is how music therapy can be effective with your patients and, of course, they said that's great, but where is the money?" she said.

The money to fund the music therapist position at the Aflac Cancer Center eventually came from Rock Against Cancer, a nonprofit that funds music therapy for pediatric cancer patients.

"Being a cancer survivor and seeing what kids go through, it's amazing what music does to take your mind off the pain you're going through," said Jean Murphy, Rock Against Cancer Atlanta fundraising chair. 'We've just been overwhelmed from the reception we've gotten from the kids and the parents that Beth helps. She is just truly amazing."

Splitting her time between Children's at Egleston and Scottish Rite campuses, Collier spends her days visiting children with a music cart and engaging them in songwriting, guitar lessons and other music-related projects.

'We had a dance party after lunch one day. They did everything from the chicken dance to break dancing." Collier said. "I don't know exactly what is going to happen until I know who is up and ready to go because they are very sick."

Sometimes the patients are too sick to do anything.

In those cases, Collier tries various methods to ease the pain or nausea associated with chemotherapy.

'They may not want to do anything active, but I can sit at the bedside." She said. "I can't stop someone from vomiting, but at least their focus shifts away fromhow horrible they are feeling."

Collier has sung children to sleep and even been asked by parents to sing fortheir child at the end of their lives or at their funerals.

"A lot of kids don't survive and the death can be tough, but at the same time if the family is willing to use music, it is an honor for me to be involved with that," she said.

For those children that do make it through the fight, Collier hopes she has given them a way to cope with difficulties beyond their illness.

"So many kids tell me they come out of the battle with cancer feeling like they are better for it. I hope having a tool like music to cope with pain and anxiety lasts far beyond the illness," she said.

In October 2008, when Collier began providing music therapy to patients at the Aflac Cancer Center, Snyder was hired as music therapist in inpatient rehabilitation at Scottish Rite, essentially doubling the size of the music therapy program. Using music to help infants and young adults recover from stroke and brain injury, Snyder first discovered her interest in music therapy in high school.

"I wanted to do something to help people in my life," she said. "I started reading books about psychology and music and the impact of music on the brain. By the time I was a junior or senior in high school I knew music therapy was definitely what I wanted to do."

Through the use of guitars, pianos, drums and singing, Snyder uses patients' preferred music to help them recover their speech, language abilities and cognitive skills. Rather than using weights or exercise, Snyder's sessions consist of learning to play instruments or utilizing the rhythm in a familiar song to help them walk again.

"Oftentimes music can really be the breakthrough point for them to get them started and it might open up that pathway to being able to talk again or it might help organize their body muscles enough to get those first steps in again," she said.

Snyder often works alongside other therapists and when she isn't available to participate in sessions she puts together individual music programs on an iPod system that patients can use in her absence.

"Music isn't unique ... music covers speech areas, the music stimulates neuronsin motor areas so you can use the music to stimulate those areas to give them a jump-start for therapy," Snyder said. "I've had patients who can only speak clearly when singing for several weeks before they are able to actually speak on their own again."

Even for low-level patients, like those still in a coma, Snyder is able to use music to decrease their heart rate and stabilize their breathing.

Snyder said the most rewarding part of her work is seeing patients recover and come back to visit?some even playing music for the hospital's Sunday chapel service.

"I think the best part is just seeing the impact of music on everyone's lives and seeing how it can open the door for a child to being able to speak or walk again and seeing them smile because of it," she said.

Beth Collier

  • Age: 38
  • Years in business: 15
  • Top career achievement: Starting new music therapy program now serving five areas of the hospital that didn't have access to music therapy just two years ago
  • Career highlights: Brook Run (Georgia Retardation Center), provided music therapy services to adults with severe delays; Elaine Clark Center; Wesley Woods Geriatric Center; Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, music therapist inpatient rehabilitation
  • Hobbles: Morning walks with bull mastiff, Maggie, and playing violin with the Cobb Symphony Orchestra. Also, listening to live music.

Cori Snyder

  • Age: 31
  • Years in business: Eight years as a board-certified music therapist
  • Top career achievement: Helped lead design, setup and use of a music therapy multi-sensory room for adolescents and adults in skilled nursing care at Georgia Regional Hospital and receiving certification for Neurologic Music Therapy, NICU Music Therapy, and Brain Injury Specialist Certification
  • Career highlights: Music therapist, Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Hospital and Behavioral Health Center; Memory Impaired Assisted Living Center; Georgia Regional Hospital, Atlanta; Children with Autism and Aflac Bone Stem Cell Transplant Study; Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite
  • Hobbles: Bicycling, reading, movies, playing with my two cats and going tothe park or lake